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Officials: Snake bites in S. Korea are pretty rare but can be deadly

A preserved mamushi pit viper in a jar at Yongsan Garrison, South Korea, is similar to one that recently bit a Camp Humphreys troop. It is one of four species of venomous, and possibly deadly, snakes in South Korea.

JIMMY NORRIS / S&S

By JIMMY NORRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 27, 2007

YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — U.S. Forces Korea officials are warning their troops not to play with snakes: South Korea is home to four species of venomous and potentially deadly snakes.

One servicemember learned that lesson firsthand recently when he was bitten by a mamushi pit viper while clearing brush at his off-post home in Pyeongtaek — home to Osan Air Base and Camp Humphreys.

The man killed the snake and brought it with him to an off-base hospital, where he was treated, according to military officials.

Venomous snakes have been discovered on military installations, including Camp Casey, K-16 and Camp Carroll, according to 18th Medical Command’s entomologist, a self-described “go-to guy” for pest management.

Lt. Col. Jason Pike stressed that U.S. military hospitals do not carry antivenin, and that anyone bitten will be evacuated to an off-post hospital.

But he added that snake bites are rare.

“I’ve been beating the bush for rats and mosquitoes since June, and I’ve never seen a snake,” Pike said.

Three of the four poisonous species here belong to the mamushi genus, which is related to North America’s cottonmouth.

Symptoms from mamushi venom usually appear from one to six hours after a victim is bitten, and include double vision, general aches, difficulty breathing and a rigid neck. The toxin affects the victim’s nervous and blood systems.

The fourth species is the tiger snake. Its venom primarily affects the blood, and symptoms include bleeding gums, local swelling and bleeding at the wound site. The tiger snake also can release secretions that can damage the eyes on contact.

While troops are being urged to be cautious, “the mosquito is still the most dangerous animal in Korea,” Pike said.


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